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What's My Line?


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#451

ChicagoCita

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Posted Dec 29, 2012 @ 4:30 PM

Yowsah. I never knew Paul Newman was so incredibly good-looking in his heyday. My mom got to know him a bit, socially, in Connecticut when he was in his 60s and 70s (she was president of the local historical society, in which Joanne Woodward was interested and would volunteer her husband for fundraisers), and of course he was an attractive man all during his life, but ... to see him last night on WML was a treat for my eyes!

Also, how surprising to hear him describe himself as a "stage actor" rather than a "movie actor." Also kind of cute to hear him lament that there just wasn't enough "live television" anymore.

I am a little puzzled by Bennett saying, for the viewers at home without color TV, that the one contestant had bright red hair. Fifty-three years later, I am watching on a color TV, but I still can't see her flaming red hair! Made me wonder if the show was broadcast in color by then, but recorded in black and white.
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#452

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Posted Jan 13, 2013 @ 9:37 PM

I requested Gil Fates' book, What's My Line, from the library and am about halfway through it. Really interesting, and it does a good job of humanizing the show. It wasn't as far-removed from TV we know about now behind the scenes! Surprisingly, he talks more about the show (and I've Got A Secret, which he also produced) than the specific personalities, which is the only thing I find disappointing.

A few tidbits that I've been trying to remember to share here:
  • It was filmed right above the waiting room at Grand Central Station! That's the biggest shock to me. In all the times I've been in Grand Central, in all the admiring looks I've given the glorious ceiling, I never knew one of my favorite shows took place right there. Kind of personalizes Daly's constant comments about a big drafty studio.
  • Miss Dorothy really was that competitive. Bennett told Fates a story about finding her backstage in tears and asking if she was ill. No, she was beside herself because she hadn't guessed anyone's profession in three weeks!
  • They taped an extra show every other month, so they could run them and take a break during the summer. People on camera were asked to say "next week" or "last month" rather than a specific date, so it wouldn't be obvious that the show was up to ten months old.
  • WML was HUGE in its day. A mention of a play or restaurant ensured lines to get in. Thirty million people watched it.
  • Dorothy used some behind-the-scenes conflict involving John Daly for a non-bylined scoop in her newspaper and he didn't speak to her off-camera for six months.
  • Fates said the producers felt that WML should have evolved rather than sticking to a rigid format, as it did, but that John Charles Daly didn't like change and would have left if the show had gone in a different direction.
  • The cast never watched television. So when TV stars started appearing, often they had no idea who they were. John Daly would have to do some spin, like "of course we all know and delight in her antics on _________" to clue in the panel. To them, Bobby Short was a much bigger star than Carol Burnett.
  • Fates liked Bennett a lot, and said he had basically a charmed life where nothing ever went wrong, from birth on. He seems to have liked Dorothy, too. He doesn't have much to say in affectionate terms about Daly (and I haven't gotten to the Arlene parts yet). He is discreet about some items, like the identity of the star who sent a telegram asking for Dorothy's spot on the panel even before Dorothy's funeral, but he had harsh things to say about Hal Block, one of the original panelists, who was considered too gauche after a couple years.
  • The original show had the panel seated, but viewers were so enthralled by WML's glamour that they wanted to see the ladies' gowns and requested that they enter one by one so that the audience could get a look at the entire outfit.
  • WML tried very hard to get as many minorities as they could on the show. We've talked here about the dearth of minorities, but Fates said they definitely tried as hard as they could, but didn't do a very good job of it.
  • My favorite for last: I've often wondered why the ladies hated putting on the blindfolds so much. He gives the answer: The blindfolds used to smear their makeup and bend their false eyelashes.
If I come across more fun stuff in the rest of the book, I'll add it to this post.

Edited by ChicagoCita, Jan 29, 2013 @ 5:21 PM.

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#453

Book Law

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Posted Jan 19, 2013 @ 9:25 PM

Interesting...I had the impression the show was filmed in what is now the Ed Sullivan Theatre, but I guess not.

Henry Morgan's autobiography, which I read several years ago, has some tidbits about WML, though it has much more about I've Got a Secret where he was a regular panelist. He may be an unreliable source (he was a famously sour man), but he reported that Fred Allen told him Arlene and Dorothy were the real competition because "those girls want to WIN," and that Bennett was a "tweed wastebasket." Morgan added, "it was true."

I don't even know what a "tweed wastebasket" means. Anyway.

There's also a bit in Dick Cavett's autobiography about going to New York on Sunday nights to see the show while he was a student at Yale. According to Cavett, Bennett, Arlene and Dorothy were mobbed with autograph seekers after the show but Fred Allen was virtually ignored, and started walking down the street alone. Cavett fell into step behind him. A wino came out of the dooway with his hand extended, saying, "Fred, you're the greatest." Allen looked over his shoulder at Cavett and said, "Ah, my fan club is gathering."

As a spur-of-the-moment one liner, that was pretty fantastic.
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#454

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Posted Jan 29, 2013 @ 2:53 PM

I read most of Bennett's autobiography several years ago. Like almost all auto-biographies, it was self-serving with many glaring omissions. It is mostly about his publishing years, but there was a bit on WML. From what I recall, he looked back fondly on it and seemed to like it. There wasn't much, so I don't remember. Definitely not the detail of Fates' book.
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#455

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Posted Jan 31, 2013 @ 1:48 AM

I finished Gil Fates' book, and just a few more items I found interesting.

He hadn't gotten around to describing Arlene yet, when I last posted, and let's just say that Miss Francis was one of his favorite people. He said she was just as she was on the show: funny, charming, gracious, and smart. He absolutely swoons over her in the book. I like Arlene, and it's nice to know that what viewers saw was how she was. I have been a critic of her ethnic caricatures, but it was appropriate for the time, so I will take Mr Fates at his word that Arlene was quite wonderful.

This is how much TV has changed since the early 1950s: The sponsor, Stoppette deodorant, with Dr. Jules Montennier (sp?), had to stop sponsoring WML because it got too expensive with the overwhelming popularity of the show. Apparently the sponsor during that time was responsible for shipping tapes (??) of each episode to each station that showed it, kind of like they used to do with reels of movie films to each theater. WML was playing on so many stations across the country that there was no way Stoppette could ship the shows and continue to make a profit. So new sponsors were obtained who would be better equipped to handle such expenses.

His true passion seemed to be with the seven years daily syndicated version of WML, which I never saw and which I think I would have hated. He apparently felt constrained by the on-screen intrapanel discussions on WML Classic, with all the introductions, the conferences, the puns, etc. On syndicated WML, they shot five shows a day and cut discussion and introductions to the bone, gave broad hints to the panel, and left time for "free-wheeling" stunts in which the panel joined the guests. To me, this is WML From Hell, because I love the formality, snobbism, and gentility of WML Classic. Mr Fates, however, felt constrained and slightly resentful of the Sunday night weekly show. He felt it had become stale and formulaic. He doesn't seem to have liked John Daly, who insisted the show not break the pattern that had made it so successful for so many years.

So, in the end, I found myself not completely enjoying the book, because at the time it was written (1978), Gil Fates was into wacky and off-the-wall game shows. And of course that's everything that I dislike about game shows from that era. I like WML because of how very different it is from today's TV, and while it was most certainly an exaggerated version of life in the Eisenhower Era, I enjoy visiting it as often as GSN will allow me to.

I've now ordered Kilgallen from the library and look forward to spending a couple weeks living in Miss Dorothy's world.
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#456

stinkymcgee

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Posted Jan 31, 2013 @ 10:49 AM

I've now ordered Kilgallen from the library and look forward to spending a couple weeks living in Miss Dorothy's world.


I re-read Kilgallen about once a year; I find Dorothy, and Lee Israel's account of her life, absolutely fascinating. The Gil Fates book, and Bennett's auto-bio? Once was enough. I need to hunt down Henry Morgan's book now; thanks, Book Law, for letting us know of its existence!
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#457

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Posted Mar 29, 2013 @ 1:59 PM

I poked around online for some of the old WML eps, and there is a favorite theme that is enjoyable to watch:

Sometimes the guest will be a person the panelists bump into on a regular basis. Some of the clips I noticed were the cabana boy at a restaurant where the panelists ate frequently. It was also fun watching the camera crew from the show as mystery guests, and after the round was over, they went directly back to running the cameras without missing a beat.
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#458

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Posted Dec 12, 2013 @ 8:14 PM

Yay!  Next week GSN starts showing WML in the wee hours of the morning (2AM here in Central Time Zone land), followed by I've Got A Secret.

 

LOVE this time of year, and -- as always -- wish for more than 2 or 3 weeks of WML fun.  But I do appreciate it while it's here.


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#459

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Posted Dec 18, 2013 @ 9:11 AM

Just as I said last year, I'm glad my DVR records it automatically, cause I didn't even know they were on. What a wonderful surprise! I just don't understand how they can't make room in their schedule for these old shows, if only once a week. 


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#460

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Posted Dec 18, 2013 @ 1:27 PM

I'm with you there, Hershey4.  I am just loving these shows, as always.  I hate that we just get them a couple weeks a year.

 

Walt Disney's daughter was a generous donor to a school named after him in my neighborhood, and she recently passed away, so it was fun to see the actual Walt Disney as a guest.  It was an earlier show, so they left more time to chat with him, which I enjoyed.  Fun to hear that "Tom Sawyer Island" was an upcoming feature at Disneyland!


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#461

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Posted Dec 18, 2013 @ 1:39 PM

I really do love this show; it is so cool to see such classic performers and creators. Just recently, my dad and I were talking about the upcoming films for the rest of the year, and we agreed that "Saving Mr. Banks" looks like it should be really interesting. Dad shared about how much of a impact that Walt Disney had on his childhood (he was born in 1940), and I pointed out that my generation's equivalent (I was born in 1966) was Jim Henson. He gave me a puzzled look, and I clarified, "You know--the Muppets?"


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#462

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Posted Dec 18, 2013 @ 6:35 PM

I was absolutely shocked by two things about Jackie Gleason's appearance -- one, that he was under 40 at the time and two, that he was considered to be "heavy."  When he got up to shake hands with the panel, he looked maybe thirty pounds overweight?  By those standards, Alec Baldwin and Tom Hanks would be considered "fat actors" if they existed in WML-Land.

 

Did not appreciate Jerry Lewis cracking wise over the weight of the contestant who packed "reducing pills" -- but I'm not a fan anyway, so perhaps my prejudice got in the way.  I was also shocked -- and I really was surprised that I was, I know this was the era before political correctness -- to hear Jerry refer to kids with muscular dystrophy as "crippled."  But good for him, he really was involved in fundraising for a cure early in his career.  It made me sad to think that he is the only one still living of the celebrities on that particular episode.

 

Funny to see Monday's very early episode with Arlene having dark hair and Dorothy looking much older than she did in later shows.  I also got a kick out of the nervousness of the contestants.  Seems that this may have been the real "reality tv" -- before people were coached on how to act on tv.


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#463

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Posted Dec 18, 2013 @ 11:20 PM

I'm not a huge Jerry Lewis fan, but I was also surprised at what he said to that lady who packed diet pills (Doesn't she take 'em at any time!?!'). Just a totally different time. No one could EVER get away with saying that to someone on TV today. But even Bennett got away with the comment 'Mrs. Lawrence, you're a very healthy, ROBUST lady.'...while the audience snickered.


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#464

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Posted Dec 19, 2013 @ 6:58 PM

I love the two weeks of WML episodes.   I'm not as big a fan of I've Got A Secret and wish it was double WML, but what I mostly wish is we got these for more than two weeks at Christmas.    


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